I sent out a newsletter today and in it linked to a story I found about people who fall asleep on other people’s shoulders on trains in Tokyo. I mentioned I’d seen the same thing happen many times and recounted a not entirely dissimilar experience of my own years ago. I remembered writing about it at the time but I looked around and couldn’t find what I’d written anywhere. Moments ago I remembered a long forgotten blog I set up and made one single post on back in August, 2007 – and it was the post about the train. As I’ve already lost that once, I thought it would be worth it to repost the story here for future reference. For context, at the time I was working through how to write and tell stories that weren’t entirely from my perspective and weren’t entirely based in fact. So this is that.
The platform at the Jiyugaoka station was packed with people waiting for the next train, an express going towards Yokohama. Suits. Salary men. A few school kids and ladies who all seemed to have some sort of shopping bag with them. He’s seen this scene several times in the last week and blends right in the best of his ability. Headphones in place blocking out the noise of the tracks and book in hand to occupy the time between stations. The train arrives and everyone boards. It’s not as crowded as he expected it to be, but still very much standing room only. He’s reading Pattern Recognition and is a little freaked out that all of the places Cayce visits in Tokyo he also saw, though a day in advance of reading about them. Patterns for sure.
People get on, people get off. Somewhere near Kikuna a seat opens up and he takes it, careful not to take up any more room that absolutely needed. It’s next to the wall and he slides right in. Everyone sitting is doing the same thing – arms and shoulders tucked in tight, attention focused on a book or mobile device. No one looks around, no eyes ever meet. The further away from Tokyo they get the more the ratio of people getting off the train beats out those getting on. About the same time he notices that there are only 3-4 people still standing he notices her. He’s been sitting next to her the entire time, either that or he sat down next to someone else who go up at some point without him noticing. It’s possible because he’s been sucked in by Gibson at this point, but doubts it. She’s on his right, the wall is on his left.
Another stop and more people get off. For the first time on this trip there are vacant seats, and no one left standing. Another stop and more people exit for whatever destination they are off to. She’s still pressed tight against him and he stops thinking about the footage, and wonders how long until she slides away from him. More people get off, vacating more seats but she doesn’t move. He looks at her but she doesn’t return the glance. Her hair is long and black, though barely concealing a set of white iPod earbuds. He sees the nano she’s holding but can’t see the screen, not as if he could read it anyway. It’s the pink model. He smiles and turns back to his book wondering what she’s listening to. The Jesus and Mary Chain are pumping through his own sound isolating plugs. They are good and he can’t even hear the train which says a lot.
“I get an electric shock from you”
He almost jumps when she touches his hand, but doesn’t. He jumps inside, but it doesn’t register outside. He realizes he’s been holding the book with his left hand and let his right drop down near his leg on the seat. She’s done the same with opposite hands and her fingers had just brushed the back of his hand. He didn’t know if it was an accident, her eyes still fixated on something else, some other direction, not him. But her hand doesn’t pull away. She moves it closer. The backs of their hands are touching when their fingers start to merge. Another stop, more people getting off the train, no one new gets on.
“And there’s something going on inside”
He’s still staring at the book but hasn’t read a single word in what seems like an hour. The only thing he’s aware of at all is the two fingers pushed in next to his pinky and ring finger. She hasn’t looked but there’s no way she’s unaware of it. Another station, another stop. There’s no one else on their bench but she hasn’t moved away at all. The doors close and he grabs her hand. It was a bold move, the first thing that couldn’t be brushed off as accidental. She doesn’t pull away. She keeps her hand there, she never looks.
“Yeah, the world could die in pain, And I wouldn’t feel no shame”
They are definitely holding hands. She’s never looked at him, not that he’s been aware of. He’s never seen her eyes. She hasn’t looked. He’s trying not to. The last other person gets off the train leaving them completely alone. He looks at her but she keeps looking the other direction. He turns back the book which he’s completely lost interest in and feels her squeeze his hand just the slightest bit. She still hasn’t looked. He realizes that this is equally the sweetest and strangest moment he’s shared with anyone in possibly years when the train reaches it’s final stop. She lets go of his hand, puts her iPod into her bag, stands up and walks off the train. She never looks at him. He watches her walk out the door, down the platform to the escalator towards some random exit. She never looks back. He doesn’t follow. He sits there and listens to the song. The train doesn’t move.
“Makes you wanna blow the stars from the sky”
Most of this never happened.